Managing Expectations

Expectations are funny things. They tell us how something should be, should look, or should work out. Sometimes, we have no/few expectations, and an experience brings us unanticipated satisfaction. No problem here! But frequently, we set our expectations unrealistically high, leaving us (or someone else) feeling disappointed and demotivated.

Simply being aware of the power of expectations – and the need to manage them – can be very useful. This is especially true when we are trying something new. We need to feel the freedom to fail, not have all the answers, and move slowly. If you want to make a change or explore a new opportunity, remember these tips:

we set our expectations unrealistically high, leaving us (or someone else) feeling disappointed and demotivated.

Be realistic.
The promise of rewarding results is what gives us the energy to move forward. But we shouldn’t expect too much progress, too quickly. Progress is incredibly motivating, but falling short has the reverse effect.

PRACTICAL APPLICATION: Be careful to set small, achievable objectives rather than one giant long-term goal.

Don’t pretend to have knowledge you lack.
Often we profess knowledge or competence in an area because we feel this is required. But bravado can quickly turn to despair if it leads to being in over our head. Better to fess up to now knowing Excel than to claim expertise, only to be expected to run a complicated spreadsheet on day one.

PRACTICAL APPLICATION: Be open about your limitations and willing to do whatever is necessary to overcome them.

Overestimate the time you will need.
We tend to estimate time assuming all aspects of a project will go perfectly. Unfortunately, this rarely happens. You may think you can finish the report by the end of the day, until you get a call from school telling you to come and pick up your feverish child.

PRACTICAL APPLICATION: Build in time for the unexpected when defining your timeframe.

Be clear about what you promise to deliver.
Sometimes we get in trouble because we aren’t specific about what we will (and won’t) do. Saying “I’ll help with that event” is too broad. Will you… recruit volunteers? order supplies? manage the financials?

PRACTICAL APPLICATION: Be very specific with yourself and others when describing what you will accomplish.

Ask for help.
Often we overestimate our own abilities, expecting ourselves to be competent in areas where we simply are not. Just because someone else can do something, doesn’t mean we “ought to” be able to.  Remember, if you are trying something you’ve been avoiding, it is probably because you don’t feel capable. A little money invested wisely (e.g. in a class, for technical expertise, etc.) can save a lot of time and headache.

PRACTICAL APPLICATION: Bring in a specialist who can help you get started and be available if you need help along the way.

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The expectations we carry set the bar for how we will define success. The lower our expectations, the greater chance we have of being pleasantly surprised.

What experiences have you had of exceeding or falling short of expectations?

18 thoughts on “Managing Expectations”

  1. Great article Seana, I always think I have more time in the day, then I turn around and my son is walking in the door from school. I have learned to set a list of attainable goals that I can manage in the time I have, what’s left gets done the next day.

    1. There is definitely some time warp that goes on with the school day. It seems to go so quickly! I especially remember feeling this way during the preschool years, when I felt I had barely managed drop off and it was time to head back in:)

  2. Hi Seana – great article and it couldn’t be more appropriate for getting organised.

    So often I find that I expect things to take a lot less time than they actually do, which can be very demotivating and cause less inclination to get started (thinking here about how much I add to my diary at times, or starting to organise a room in my house etc..).

    Having the right expectations can do wonders for productivity if you start to understand how long things take and be realistic about what you can do.

    Thanks again!

    1. That’s exactly how I feel, Chrissy. If I expect a task to take a week, I’m more patient with myself and feel motivated by my progress. But when I underestimate the time, I feel like a loser. So to the extent that I can control that expectation, I increase the odds of feeling like a success:) Thanks for the comment!

  3. Seana, great article and wonderful tips for sure. I will say asking for help is so important and learned this the hard way more then a few times, especially when I was a first time mother. So, I seriously couldn’t agree more 🙂

    1. It took me a few big “fails” myself to learn that asking for help is a sign of wisdom and strength, not weakness. This seems counterintuitive, but it really is true. It is so freeing to be able to say “I know nothing about this” 🙂

  4. I am so learning about asking for help, and overestimating time needed. I used to get into trouble by avoiding both. It was bad.
    I’m struck by this one – “Don’t pretend to have knowledge you lack.” In my business there will be things I’m asked to do that I’ve never done. Often I can wing it and rent a lens and learn what I need to learn.
    Not always.
    I’m learning to be honest about what I can’t do because it’s out there.

    1. My experience is that if we are clear about our level of experience, but then say we are willing to move forward and try if the client/boss is okay with that, they often still hire me. I just think when we misrepresent our abilities, that adds expectations, and hence pressure!

  5. Asking for help is such a big step, we think we are weak if we do, but it requires great strength to admit that you need help. Hubby and I fight about this all the time, I like to plan the what ifs and what migh happens…he’s just go and see what happens…drives me MAD!

    1. Variety is the spice of life, for sure! Funny how we often end up with someone whose approach is so different from our own. I think we end up balancing each other out, right? I tend to be more like you, though, and think through the possible issues so I can problem solve them in advance.

  6. I took on the job of Executive Director (while I’m in graduate school full-time) and I’ve really learned a lot about expectations. All of these points you make, I’ve encountered in the last year. It’s a challenging job, but I’ve also learned that it’s better to learn from experience than just reading or thinking about it.

    1. It is better, Nicole! Sounds like you have a VERY FULL plate, so best of luck with all of those responsibilities. I think most people are happy to put in the effort to learn, but it is freeing to not have to pretend to have skills you don’t.. to be given the help or time you need to get up to speed. Thanks for the comment!

  7. Great information on how to live practical lives, rather than above our expectations. I think your tip on creating small, manageable goals, rather than one big goal is very smart. Thanks for posting. Have a blessed day. Followed you from SITS.

    1. Thanks, Vicki. Nothing is more depressing than feeling like I didn’t accomplish what I should have, so for me, smaller (more achievable…) goals keeps me motivated:)

  8. I am always underestimating on time. It’s a bad habit and frequently puts me in the position of having too much to do in too little time. This is a good reminder!

    1. I hate that time pressure.. makes me feel so out of control. I can’t control everything, but if its up to me, I try to stack the odds in my favor by giving myself extra time. Worth a try!

  9. I used to not ask for help because I don’t want others to think that I can’t do it. But I’ve learned especially when I became a mom that asking for help is necessary in some cases. There are just situations when we cannot do it all and that’s when we’ll need help. 🙂

    1. I so agree, Rea! And asking for help when you need it then turns into a strength position, enabling others to use their gifts and create a better outcome. Becoming a Mom was definitely an eye-opener for me on this one as well… very humbling:)

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